A recent week-long trip to the Niagara area offered not only great golfing weather, but an opportunity to take in Wainfleet’s Marshville Heritage Festival before visiting a few of my favorite wineries, all of which will be featured in our Savvy Selections wine of the month club over the next few months.
The Marshville Heritage Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Organized entirely by volunteers, the Festival celebrates the 1829 founding of a small Ontario village associated with the construction of the first Welland Canal. The volunteer society has restored 17 buildings, including a one and one-half story limestone house built in 1790, a sawmill built in 1891 (at the Festival, it was being run by the 70-year-old grandsons of the founder - how neat is that!?), an outdoor oven (where women in period dress were baking fabulous cornbread), and a cabinet-maker’s shop which once belonged to J.W. Overholt, a prominent abolitionist who sheltered escaped slaves. A wide range of artisans and food vendors vied for space with the historical buildings. The Festival is the Society’s primary fundraiser and is a great educational and entertainment event for all ages. If you’re in the Niagara area in early September next year, don’t miss it this festival.
After an enjoyable couple of days at the Festival and on the golf links, I got down to the serious business of wine tasting! My first stop was Reif Estate Winery, where I met with Klaus Reif, President and Oenologist, and Andrea Kaiser, who is responsible for the winery’s retail operations and promotion. We had a great chat about Klaus’ early years, the evolution of the winery, as well as some the new challenges he has set himself. This includes the innovative use of tobacco kilns for creating temperature-controlled environments to dry grapes for passito-style wines and to produce botrytis-affected grapes for Sauternes-style wines. Reif Estate has some great wines, including some outstanding Bordeaux-style blends. More to follow in the Savvy Selections this November. Consider subscribing for an opportunity to try some of the hard to find Reif wines along with the recipes we recommend!
For those of you who know me, I am a strong proponent of organic wines, so my trip included a visit at Frogpond Farm and Southbrook Vineyards, both of which will be featured in spring issues of the Savvy Selections.
Frogpond Farm is the original certified organic winery in Niagara. Jens and Heike are excited about their expansion onto a new certified organic acreage in the peninsula, and are now producing wines in 750 ml bottles as well as their traditional 500 ml format. We tasted a range of wines, including the 2006 Cabernet Franc from their original property and the 2007 Cabernet Franc from the new property. This side-by-side tasting was a great opportunity to compare the significant differences terroir and vintage can make to a wine. While the 2006 is brawny and robust, the 2007 is more fruity and delicate. We laughingly decided that the former was more ‘masculine’, while the latter, more ‘feminine’!
I spent time with Elena Galey-Pride, Director of Customer Experience at Southbrook Vineyards, learning about their transition to biodynamic and organic viticulture and viniculture. To quote their winemaker, Anne Sperling, “Biodynamics is like extreme organics!” In effect, biodynamic producers have a profound respect for the influence of nature on their crops and products, and work to optimize, preserve and recycle the resources of their farmed land. The biodynamic processes on site continue to evolve, with a decision made to establish their own herd of sheep next year, and the use of natural fermentation in winemaking. Southbrook’s first biodynamic release was their Cabernet Franc Rose this summer – we sipped from one of the few remaining bottles. In October, the winery will release their second biodynamic wine, the 2008 Triomphe Merlot, which offers strong fruity flavors with a great balance of acidity and tannins.
Pillitteri Estates Winery was our last stop of the day, where we participated in a wonderfully informative tour of the winery, then tasted a wide range of their still and sweet wines. The Pillitteri family story seems like a Canadian fairy tale. Gary Pillitteri came to Canada in 1948, when his grandfather purchased their original 56-acre fruit farm off Niagara Stone Road. A series of photos show the evolution of the farm from orchard to vineyard, and of the retail building from fruit stand to combined tasting room, retail shop and fruit stand. When Gary won his first award as an amateur winemaker for his Vidal ice wine, a family decision was made to move beyond grape growing into winemaking. Pillitteri Estates Winery has expanded to 100 acres and is a family affair involving Gary, his wife, their three children and the five grandchildren. Fifty-five or more percent of their production is sweet wines, for which they have won numerous prestigious awards, including a recent gold for their Shiraz Ice Wine at the Syrah du Monde competition. Yet, with all this success, staff at the winery speak with great affection about the work environment the family has created. Said one individual, “Mrs. P (Pillitteri) often comes in and makes pizza for everyone on the weekend. And the family usually gathers in the winery at the end of the day to share dinner.” Not only does Mrs. P make pizza, as I noticed when we were in the tasting room, she also comes by and helps the staff wash tasting glasses!
We toured Pillitteri's barrel cellar, which is one of the largest in the Niagara at 6000 square feet. In the barrel cellar, Gary Pillitteri has created a fascinating homage to his success in Canada. He firmly believes that 23 is his lucky number. He arrived in Canada on that date, and his wife and two of his children were born on that date. The 42-foot-long single-pour concrete table in the cellar is surrounded by 23 chairs made from a single steel fermentation tank. The table has 5 supporting legs (2+3) and 23 lights hand above it. 23 steps lead from the barrel cellar to the tasting room.
After the extensive tour, we were thirsty, so up those stairs we went!! We sampled the toasty 2007 Sur Lie Chardonnay, the aromatic 2008 Gewurztraminer/Riesling blend, and the Bottled Blond Bradshaw Reserve – Dr. Marc Bradshaw, Pillitteri’s young winemaker from SouthAfrica, dyes his hair, hence the name! Among the reds, we sampled both the 2007 Merlot and the 2002 Merlot, each reflecting its unique vintage and winemaker. And the 2007 Cabernet Franc was a great hit, full-bodied and well balanced with a lingering finish. One of my favorite sweet wines is Pillitteri’s Select Late Harvest Chambourcin, produced from a hybrid varietal – it has a beautiful balance of tart red fruit, rhubarb and honey. The grand finale was a taste of the 2007 Sticky Beak Ice Wine, which includes a blend of the Cabernets, Sangiovese and Shiraz – the perfect ending to a beautiful experience. Pillitteri Estates Wines has been a Savvy Selections feature in past years, and we look forward to showcasing their wines again soon.
Our thirst sated, we were hungry! On a recommendation, we headed to Olson Foods at Ravine. This is the new home of Anna and Michael Olson’s gourmet bakery and deli, located in St. David’s adjacent to Ravine Vineyards. Opened in the summer of 2008, the single-story rustic building looks like an old farmhouse with an inviting veranda surrounding it. The scarred wooden tables and mismatched chairs make the interior feel like you’re stepping into your grandmother’s kitchen. Anna was welcoming guests and helping out at the cash, where she willingly signed copies of her recipe books. The food was great – sharing plates or modest main plates were freshly made with local ingredients, and very reasonably priced. A wide range of fresh breads and pastries tempted us to stay for a lingering cup of tea. And the wide range of condiments, oils, vinegars and kitchen necessities beckoned from the well-planned displays. This is a must-visit spot whether or not you are visiting wineries!
If you can’t make it to Niagara but are tempted by some of the great wines I’ve mentioned, contact me to order a selection of wines from Reif Estate Winery, Frogpond Farm, Southbrook Vineyards or Pillitteri Estates - or any other winery featured in our Savvy Selections .
PS - when you are heading to Niagara, contact me for the Savvy 'must visit' list of wineries and restaurants. With over 90 wineries in the area, it can be difficult to figure out where to visit. The Savvy team of Sommeliers have visited them all and offer you our insight to make your Niagara wine adventure memorable.
Tags: accredited Sommelier, Anna Olson, Biodynamic winemaking, Frogpond Farm, icewine, Marshville Heritage Festival, Niagara wineries, Olson Foods, Ontario VQA wines, Pillitteri Estate Winery, Ravine Vineyards, Reif Estate, Savvy Company, Southbrook Vineyards, Susan Desjardins, The Savvy Grapes, touring Ontario wineries, Wine and Food, wine tasting, wine tasting events Ottawa